Rahmel Dockery, Washington's high school football player of the year as a senior wide receiver at Curtis, was told prior to practice on the second morning of fall camp that he was being moved to cornerback.
"I called my dad (that) night and told him I was going to quit," Dockery recalled.
"When I got that phone call that night – oh my God," Steve Dockery said. "He was in tears. He's just crying. "I'm like, ‘What happened?' I thought someone had beat him up or something. He was just crying and crying, and he couldn't even tell me. "He just kept saying, ‘Oh, I can't believe it. Dad, you would not believe what happened. Oh my God, Dad, you won't believe this.'"
Two calls followed that night, another the next morning. The Cougars were loaded with talent and depth at wide receiver and needed plenty more of both qualities at cornerback, but that was of little consolation to Dockery.
"He said, ‘I've lost my love for football,'" Dockery's father said. "When he said it, it just broke my heart."
Dockery said WSU track coach Rick Sloan assured him the track scholarship originally offered to him in high school was still there if he gave up football. The former State 4A long jump and high jump champion – who said he was clocked at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash in high school – said he considered switching sports.
Humble and soft spoken, Dockery said prayer, his father's encouragement and a sense of obligation to his four younger brothers played key roles in his decision to stick with football.
Despite very limited experience at cornerback in high school, Dockery has been playing with the No. 2 defense – with some duty on the starting unit -- as the Cougars prepare for their final spring scrimmage Saturday at Spokane's Albi Stadium (2 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
"I feel like I am making progress," Dockery said. "Part of it is just motivation, getting my motivation back, because I kind of lost that when switching positions."
"His confidence is starting to get back up and he's making progress on the field," said WSU defensive lineman Xavier Cooper, Dockery's longtime friend and a former Wilson High standout.
Dockery says he struggled physically and emotionally last fall, when he redshirted after arriving at WSU in January as a grayshirt due to academic shortcomings. It is a sign of Dockery's maturity that he freely admits he did not always apply himself properly in the classroom in high school or on the football field in college last season.
"I'm glad I stayed," he said. "This is my dream, to play college football.
"I thought I lost it, but now I'm starting to get the drive and motivation back and the love for the game. I can see myself being a big impact on the team this year."
Defensive coordinator Mike Breske, who also serves as WSU's secondary coach, said Dockery's attitude has been "real good" this spring at cornerback.
"It's a lot different than playing receiver for him," Breske noted, "so there's a major learning curve there. He's taken some good strides.
"He's fighting the peaks and valleys. Good day, not-so-good day. But that's part of practice and part of learning a new position."
Dockery said he's pleased with his academic progress ("My tutors are really helping me"). He's quick to thank his father, mother Leata, "second mom" Erin Shagren (whom he lived with part-time when playing at Curtis with Erin's son, Scott) and Tacoma ZeeSports youth training and mentoring guru Zachary Smalls for their assistance.
Dockery said he hasn't ruled out becoming a two-sport athlete at WSU in the future, so he practiced long jumping briefly before spring football started. His father wonders if Rahmel might best be utilized as a two-way player "like Deion Sanders."
Dockery said he believes he could succeed as a college and NFL receiver. At some point, he hopes to get a chance to show off the dazzling kickoff and punt return skills he displayed in high school. For now, Dockery says he's content to focus on cornerback.
"I'm starting to like it," he said. "I'm figuring out the more I learn, the better I ‘get it.' I don't want to stop right now."
What a difference a year makes, says Dockery
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